Life with a Broken Heart

Denise Bryant:  When you’re not even looking God puts people in your life that you just know will be a blessing to you.  And He did just that when He placed Denise in mine. We both ended up attending a meeting and sat next to each other, not by accident.  I don’t know her well at all at this time but I know that God has big plans for our friendship.  Denise is the leader of our local Community Bible Study, better known as CBS.  This group of women go through 1 book thoroughly each year.  The knowledge that she must have tucked away in her head.  I can’t wait to have a chance to dig through it.   Not only is she a blessing to me but she has been a blessing to so many and will continue that trend.  I’m so glad to be able to share her heart with  you.

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It was a blustery snow flurrying November day in 1959 when I entered this world.  I was blessed to be born into a loving Christian family.  As an infant my parents dedicated themselves to bring me up to know Jesus.  Attending church was a regular part of our week.  We rarely missed a service. After 3 ½ years I was joined by my sister and our family was complete.

When I was four we moved to another town, where finding a church home was high on my parents’ priority list.  After attending a couple of different churches we settled into one that became our church home.  In this church the foundation of scripture was laid. Revivals were a big part of our lives and in the fall of 1969 before our fall revival I was part of a class that was teaching the steps of salvation.  I was an avid student but had no real direction when the revival began to make that decision.  But on Thursday night when the invitation was given my heart was pounding so hard inside my chest, there was nothing else I could do except to step out into that aisle and walk to the front to proclaim Jesus as my Lord and follow Him into baptism. The next day at school I was sure that everyone had to know what this 9 year old girl had done the night before.  I was so free.  I felt like I was walking on air.

My life continued on this same path. But the teaching that I was presented with was more about legalism and works than about grace.  Once again our family was to move.  This move was only 20 miles away, but the changes were so much greater than the distance.  Yet Jesus was still my rock.  He was the cornerstone to everything that I did.  I was in high school now and my world was still rather small.  When challenges came I was secure enough to say no, because of the love and confidence that I had at home.  I confess I was easily frustrated and confused why so many of my classmates struggled and were so concerned about fitting in.  My naiveté blinded me to the fact that my home life was more the exception than the norm, leaving me judgmental of my fellow students’ choices.

College time came and I chose to attend the University of Kentucky, living at home and commuting.  My judgmental attitude followed me there.  It did serve to keep me out of trouble, because I had my checklist of do’s and don’ts and my fear of disappointing my parents was always in the back of my mind.

Throughout college I was active in Christian Student Fellowship and God so graciously opened my eyes to the gift I had been given growing up with parents that not only loved me but loved Jesus even more.  It was in these years He began to show me how harsh my judgments of others were.  But it was not enough to turn my heart around.

I had met my future husband, John, at the end of my senior year in high school.  We began dating at the end of that summer only to find that our focus for life, with God at the center, was completely different.  After about 3 months we went our separate ways.  For nearly 4 years we continued to run into each other at functions, feeling drawn together but knowing our lives were on two different courses.  During my last year of college, John came to me and told me that God had been chasing him and that he was seeking and searching for answers.  It still wasn’t time for us to return to dating.  He again disappeared from my life for about 9 months.  This return made it evident that God was the center of his life and within a month we were engaged.  Thirteen months later we were married.  God began using John to show me about freedom and what that should look like in my life.  I was still holding on to the judgment.  This different understanding of God’s love caused a few ripples in our relationship but we just kept moving forward.

Four years into our marriage we were surprised to find out we were going to be parents.  It definitely wasn’t our planned timing but we were excited.  In August 1986, we became parents to our precious baby boy, Jonathan.  Life really changed, and I loved being a mom.  It was the greatest!  I needed to work outside the home but after a few months we decided that the sacrifice was worth it for me to stay home.  Then in April 1991, Jonathan was joined with a baby sister, Anna.  Our life was complete.  We began homeschooling that fall and life was very hectic but blessed.  Church and family were the center of our lives.  Our goals were to teach our children about Jesus and to instill in them a love for God above all else.  But as crazy as it sounds, for the first time in my life I began to doubt.  I began to ask myself did I really believe all that I was teaching my children.  Did I really want them to see life as I had always seen it?  I was still living in a very legalistic mindset that was keeping me in a failure mode.  I couldn’t live up to my own expectations.  I was drowning in the failures.  John was trying to show me the glories of grace, but I couldn’t really embrace it.

One Sunday in our church one of the men talked about having a broken and contrite heart.  Just as when I was 9 years old my heart was pounding in my chest.  He asked if there was anyone there that wanted to pray for this broken and contrite heart to come forward and he would pray with us.  There were several that went forward and I was one of them.   Little did I know what this would mean?  Our lives changed drastically in the months and years to follow.

Tragedy seemed to come at us faster than we could process it.  My sister miscarried.  My father had a heart attack followed by open heart surgery.  My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 58.  John was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease and three months later my daughter, Anna and I were run over by our conversion van.  This all happened in less than two years.  God was good in the midst of it all.  My dad survived to live 17 more years, my sister became pregnant with twins, my mother-in-law developed a relationship with Jesus and John was healed.  Anna and I survived with few injures and I began to see my need for Jesus more than ever before.  But 7 months from that accident the children and I were traveling to church and I lost control of the van and drove into an embankment.  Again we survive with little physical damage, but now we were dealing with more emotional damage, for that same day at almost that same time a friend of ours was in a similar accident and she didn’t survive.  Survivors’ guilt became my best friend along with depression as I struggled to see my purpose in life.

I tried to battle the depression alone.  I had Jesus so why should I need any other help.  Finally I recognized that I couldn’t do it alone and sought counseling.  I went with a great deal of anger but life improved.  The improvement was short lived only to spiral down further the next time.  This cycle continued for several years until finally after Christmas one year I told John I was empty and numb.  I returned to the counselor and this time she had a different approach.  Medication was prescribed along with reading through the gospels as if I was there with Jesus and He was talking directly to me.  The scriptures became more than a rule book, now they became a love letter to me, personally.  I could hear Jesus speaking my name and began to understand His grace for me and my need for it.

The years that have followed have continued to open my eyes to His great love for me, but there are still struggles. God has given me a purpose beyond my dreams when called to me to teach His word to women and children weekly through the ministry of Community Bible Study in Winchester for the last 8 years.  What a joy to be used in this way!  John and I celebrated 35 years of marriage and this past year God blessed us with the gift of a grandson.  I pray to always desire a broken and contrite heart for with it comes the blessings of thanksgiving and the knowledge of my great need for Jesus.

To truimph over tragedy, is only done with God.  I thank you Lord for sending Denise to give me that reminder.  Amen!

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One of Imperfection

Becky Winburn……. That is a mouth full and for those who know her, you understand what I mean.  She is as determined in love as she is in life.  She gives with her full heart and gives without question.  She loves people and cares beyond but is okay just being okay.  No frills or pretension is coming from this girl.  She’s a down to earth as I know.  I moved to KY, new home, new state, new job and no “friends” and she was my first.  The first week I started my new job she befriended me and it’s been a blessing ever sense.  If you don’t know her, you should!

20170529_113042Like others who have told their stories I also was born into a Christian family. I was born Becky Sue Sams to Danny and Cecilia Sams and a big sister.  Although the nurse at the hospital insisted my mother could not name me Becky because it was a nickname my mother was victorious and I am Becky.  I was brought home to a small white frame house that sat just yards from the four mile marker on Muddy Creek Rd.  It was a safe haven and I was surrounded by Christian family and friends. My first memories of church were when we attended Antioch Christian church just a short distance from here. I loved bible school, Sunday school and Jesus at a very young age. When I was about nine we started attending church at Mt Olive Baptist down on Jackson Ferry. I remember having vacation bible school classes in a picnic shelter in the back. During that time was when I felt the call and gave my heart to Jesus Christ. I was baptized in the creek under the second bridge on White Conkright Rd., the one that is between where the old Allansville building stood and the house where Gilbert Wilder lived. My life was normal. Dana and I went to the pool and played outside all day in the summer and rode sleds and built snowmen and snowforts with our cousins in the winter. We attended church Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday nights. My favorite thing of all to do though was to sit at my grandparent’s store that was directly across from our house and listen and watch. When I was twelve my dad bought a farm on Dry Fork Rd. Around that same time was when we started attending church here.  At first the move to the farm was not much of a change. We were still just a short distance from where we had lived and my grandparent’s store was within walking distance. My other set of grandparent’s moved into a trailer on the farm. Life was good. Well that is until my dad started raising burley. We had always had a garden and mom canned. Shelling peas and lima beans and breaking green beans seemed like work. Suddenly I found out compared to raising tobacco that that had been child’s play. We had a few cattle and two pigs, cut and burned cedars but nothing was work like the tobacco. That is where I learned hard work. I tell people that all that hard work and fresh air is what has me so hardy. As the song goes I was country when country wasn’t cool. Then oh my then, I became a teenager. I never missed church and truly loved the Lord with all my heart. I was a fairly obedient child, well at least I think I was, but my parent’s may disagree. I was involved in Sunday School, Acteens, I sang in church accompanied by my uncle Jimmy and many times sang with my cousin Rhonda Slucher. I read the missionary moments every Sunday morning at the beginning of the service, it was just a paragraph or so about one of our missionary families. I graduated from high school at sixteen. This would be where my story becomes one of imperfection. Like the scripture says…the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. That summer at sixteen I helped teach my first VBS class with my mom. The five year old class, and boy were they ever entertaining. But little did I or anyone else know that long before MTV made the show “Sixteen and Pregnant” so popular I was in fact sixteen and pregnant. I started college that fall and on September 3 1983 I walked down the aisle in this very church as a child bride and married my high school sweetheart and became Becky Winburn. I had many imperfections in my life to this point but never one that would soon become so public. So it was that I delivered by c-section a daughter Whittney Dawn Winburn on January 6 1984.  She had delivery complications and her lungs collapsed and she had multi system organ failure. She was taken to UK hospital and after 21 hours of struggle she just couldn’t fight any longer. She died January 7 1984. My world stopped.We had no medical insurance and my husband and I were faced with a mound of debt that was shadowed by a mountain of grief. If my church family had been disappointed in me for getting pregnant before marriage none of it showed. They gave money to help pay the medical bills, they purchased Gideon bibles in her memory, they sent me a sunshine box so that I would feel their love for me. I clung to God like never before in my life. Even in such a dark time my farm girl raising kicked in and I picked myself up and moved forward. There simply was no other choice. I found strength in King David’s words 2 Samuel 12:20-2320 Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshiped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.

21 Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.

22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?

23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

So like King David I picked myself up knowing that one glad morning when this life is over I will again see my precious Whittney. I found a job, finished college and after more than two years after her death, I was pregnant again. Three would come over the course of the next seven years. Kellen, Coleton and Ashton. Healthy, happy, handsome and beautiful. I would get up on Sunday’s and fight the fight, find the lost shoes, or other lost clothing and  get them all three dressed and ready and we would make our way to Allansville for  Sunday School and church. Somewhere in those crazy years between Coleton and Ashton I began teaching Sunday School for 1-3 and 4-6 grades. Over the years and in spite of my imperfections I have taught SS, VBS, children’s church, mission friends, been in church plays and so on. As life would have it the days turned to weeks turned to months turned to years and the babies grew up. Through fevers, runny noses, three broken arms, a broken ankle, a broken thumb, a couple of cases of pneumonia, numerous broken hearts and one gunshot wound, any questions on this can be directed to Coleton, they were raised. My sons have given me two beautiful daughter in laws one of which is named Whitney. It is amazing how God works. He has given me two Whitney Winburn’s to love. My other daughter in law Anna allowed my son Kellen to give their first born daughter his older sister’s middle name, so she is Kailei DawnWinburn. She is one of four amazing grandbabies, there is Grayson, Mckenna and Easton. They are gifts that I could not even dream of in my younger days. He has blessed me with a front seat to see what a great mother my own daughter Ashton has become. God has been faithful even in my imperfection. And as life would have it another very public imperfection was on the way. After 29 years my marriage failed. I gave my resignation as a Sunday school teacher and continued to come and sit quietly in the back row. The week that the divorce was in the local paper I noticed during the time of fellowship there were those who generally don’t make it back to where I sit had made their way to the back corner  just to shake my hand and ask how I was doing, never mentioning that they knew a thing. Although I felt unworthy and told him as much a very persistant preacher by the name of Ray Coates continually asked me to help with the children’s ministries again. So last summer I relented and accepted a position as a VBS teacher. Although attendance was low I realized how much I had missed teaching. When fall came around he ambushed me with reasons I should teach a Sunday school class again and I accepted. Yes as I said my story is one of imperfection but even more than that it is a story of grace and mercy extended to me by my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. My story can be summed up in this one scripture from Romans 3:23-24…. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. So if someone asked me if God can use imperfect people to expand his kingdom I would first have to reference scriptural people, King David, Jonah, Moses and Paul come to mind. Then I would say that these walls that stand to each side of us would still only be mortar and brick, their would be no roof and the steeple would not be set in place for all to see who this building belongs to if not for imperfect people. There would be no hymns in the hymnals, no people in the pews to sing those missing hymns, without imperfect people the choir loft would be empty and collecting dust and cob webs and there would be no need for the baptistery that sits behind me. Yes I would have to say God can use imperfect people to do His will. I hope my story can encourage someone who thinks they are too imperfect, or sinful, or unworthy or bad for God to use. When we repent and believe all of our stories of imperfection can become this story from II Timothy 4:7-8 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. Thank you Lord for the reminder of your goodness through friendships. Amen!

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He leaves the leaves on

Amy Gilbert:  My friend Amy!  We have a story of our friendship all of it’s own.  Good times, bad times, emotional times, sweet times and supportive times.  But they were all lead by our God and He is the master of relationships.  I’ve been blessed to have her in my life.   I’ve seen her when she felt “on top of the world” and I’ve seen here when she felt like “she was run over by a truck”, very different emotions but she always trusted in the Lord.  She may not have always been able to see clearly his picture for her life but she trusted.

11692776_10205697765456055_2688964592756907457_nI was born in Jackson, Tennessee in March of 1963 to Harold and Jeaneen Lile. My mom and dad both graduated from the University of Tennessee Martin. My mom was the first four year cheerleader and my dad was the first four year football player. They were the “Barn Warming” King and Queen. I have one sister and two brothers. We moved from Tennessee to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1971 when I was in 2nd grade. I remember it being a little hard getting used to a new place and new friends.  We were excited to be a part of our new church in Raleigh. I loved to sing, had wonderful Sunday school teachers, and had examples of people who loved God. My dad was one of the song leaders. I still love to hear him sing. (He’s 83 and doing well). We had a very active campus ministry at North Carolina State University and my mom made many meals for the college students. We usually were feeding several every Sunday after church.532799_10155306472736454_6969345458015249525_n

At a pretty young age, I faced several deaths in my life. My grandfather died when I was five. Shortly after we moved to North Carolina, my Uncle, who was only 8 years older than me, committed suicide. My parents were open with us about it, for which I am thankful. In second grade, my best friend from church died after being hit by a car. I know that experiencing these losses at such a young age led me to be closer to God. At the age of 11, I became a Christian. I loved God and loved His word. I understood simply His love for me, my need for Him.

We had a close youth group at church. We had Bible studies that we invited friends to. My junior year, a friend named Tracy came with me. We studied the Bible together and she became a Christian. At that time in North Carolina, 16 year olds could drive school busses. Two weeks after she had become a Christian, she was in an accident with a school bus that ran a red light and died. At that time I had written my prayers. I had prayed over and over that she would be urgent. I see the Holy Spirit’s leading in our prayers. She was seventeen years old. Why would I pray for urgency? It was a reflective and amazing time for me in my relationship with God.

My senior year of High School I was able to be in a program where I went to High School in the morning and went to NCSU in the afternoon. I was ready to be done with High School and been accepted at UNC-G. That year I met a new friend, Virginia. She was from Tennessee and her older sister was going to college in Raleigh. She was a year ahead of me in school. Her senior year in High School she had been diagnosed with lymphoma. She was having treatments at NIH in Bethesda Maryland, but living in Raleigh between treatments. I met her and her family at church. We became very close. Her parents would fly me to Maryland to be with her during her treatments. I would stay in the hospital room with her. We’d stay up late, watch movies, eat “fun” snacks….trying to forget we were in the hospital. She loved God and relied on Him. What an amazing time, witnessing someone depending on God through something so difficult. Virginia was in and out of treatment for about 8 years. Virginia and her mom shared Jesus with the nurses and the doctors. Several became Christians.

I went away to college in the fall of 1981 to Greensboro. I was a clothing and textiles major in the home economics department. We had a close college group from church. We had Friday night devotionals that were so meaningful. We had a “fellowship hall” that was so wonderful to sing in.  I met my now ex-husband in the college group at church. He joined the Navy in the spring of 1983 and we were married in December 0f 1983. We lived in Florida, New York and South Carolina. In each place, there was a body of believers that were my family. In Florida we lived in an apartment across the street from the church. The church secretary, Imogene, took us in. When we moved to New York, I remember some people telling me (a southerner) that I might not survive the winter. Clyde and Lois from church told me I’d be fine. They took us in and had us over often. She taught me how to bake bread and always had time to talk.

In December of 1986, I was a “very pregnant” matron of honor in my friend, Virginia’s wedding. She had met Dan, they had dated, and gotten engaged. She then relapsed with her cancer. They decided to go ahead and have the wedding before she started chemo. She was a beautiful bride, wearing her mother’s gown. After her wedding, I went into preterm labor and was on bedrest until my first son, Ernie, was born in January of 1987. He’s 30 now.

Virginia had a bone marrow transplant in the fall of 1987. She died in January of 1988. Her funeral and the celebration of her life is something I will always remember!!

I had my second son, Nick, in October of 1988 after several month of bedrest and medication due to preterm labor. He was six weeks early and in the neonatal intensive care at the Medical University of SC. It was such a hard time. So many questions. There was a lot of fear. There were many prayers. The church there was so supportive. Another navy wife from church took care of Ernie everyday while we were at the hospital. Nick is 28 now, strong and healthy. We got out of the Navy in 1989 and moved back to New York. I had my third son, Luke, in March of 1990 after three months of bedrest due to preterm labor. Again, without the church, we could not have made it. Everyday someone from church would come and take care of Ernie and Nick, so I could rest.  The church where we attended were such an example of loving and caring for everyone. They loved God and in that love served others.

We moved back to North Carolina in 1997 to be near family. It was great to be with old friends and meet new ones. I met Rhonda and her family in a small family group at church. Our boys met then and are still friends. I can’t believe I have been back in Greensboro for twenty years! In those years, I have grown deeper and deeper in my love and need for God. Through divorce, the death of my mom and many others struggles, I have seen God’s guidance and provision in so many ways. He has provided such healing in my life. Through difficulties, He has taught me that He is my stronghold. He has also encouraged me with this verse: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4. I have been able work with a support group for women during the past 9 years and have seen God’s healing and His amazing comfort. He has brought many people into my life that have encouraged me and challenged me in my walk as a follower of Christ.

This has been a challenge to write. I feel like I have meandered through my story. It is hard to reflect and look back, but as I do, I am so thankful for this journey I have had with Him. One more thought…

Over the past few years, I started hiking. One of my favorite places to hike is Hanging Rock in Danbury, NC. It’s not too long of hike, about 2.6 miles to the top and back. It gets pretty steep at the end. I had hiked it several time during the spring and summer. It is worth the climb to get to the great view at the top. One year I hiked it in November. It seemed so different. I could not figure out why. I could see the top; it seemed so far and so high. I knew I had done it before many times, but it seemed out of reach. I finally figured it out. There were no leaves on the trees. I could see just how far I had to go and it seemed too far. I’ve learned that God leaves the leaves on. In my life, if I could have looked ahead, and seen all that was ahead, it would have been too far, too hard. I am thankful He leaves the leaves on. Today, I walk with Him. He is faithful. He is the same, always there. He goes before me, He goes behind.

Lord, thank you for putting her in my life. It’s not always been easy but you knew what you were doing.  Please wrap your loving arms tightly around her and keep her strong. Amen.

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Perfectly Imperfect

15977454_10154554872702284_5135947803223755301_nPatti Krank: What a blessing she is to me.  I’ve seen her once in person, feed her once at my home, heard her story in person once and intend on visiting her at her home at least once.  But I know that God brought us together forever friends.  Those around her are truly blessed by her love for her Lord, her humbleness and open brokenness. She walks daily open to His leading and willing to speak frankly about life.  I have been blessed by her and I know you will be too.

Look at all the smiling faces, lined up in wooden pews.  And there she sits among them, safe in her obscurity. 

1She’s learned well, that love is most easily lavished upon those who look good, who are successful, who are positive and happy, who follow the rules.  And so, she plays the role. 

But God sees her brokenness.  He knows her deep desire for love and acceptance.  But happiness comes through relationship, and real relationship means being honest and willing to share our real selves.  Our perfectly imperfect selves.

Early in childhood I was stricken with an infirmity called perfectionism.  Whether it was passed down from my carrier parents, fostered by the do’s and don’ts teachings of my church, or simply my own bent toward seeing things in black and white, who knows?  Maybe all three played a part in my striving to live up to my family nickname, Perfect Patti.

The youngest child, quiet and sweet-natured, no one could foresee anything but good from me.  I tried to live up to their expectations.  After accepting Jesus, around the age of 7 or so, I tried hard to do things right. But, even as a child, I never felt like my good was good enough.  My relationship with Jesus was more about what a Christian should do than it was about intimate friendship.

All of us are created for and by God, and all of us have within us a deep need for relationship.  My own little girl heart was hungry for love and acceptance.  When the teen years came I realized that the shy girl within me was able to come out of her shell and could make the cool kids laugh when she drank a little.  She was regarded as “far out” by another crowd when they learned that she would sample their offerings of contraband.  She also learned that she could finally receive the “love” she longed for when she gave herself away.  And so she did.  Body, soul, and spirit.  Trouble was,[bctt tweet=” The love I chased after never seemed to last and ultimately left me feeling rejected and alone.” username=””]

Even in the midst of my most rebellious days God never ceased His pursuit of me and He stayed by my side me in every dark place I journeyed.  As the downward spiral continued, my shame grew and my self value plummeted.  These feelings are what caused my wildest days to be short-lived, and as a young adult I returned to church and dutiful service to God.

Service mind you, not relationship.

I was happy to be back in church because I liked living in the light much better than in darkness, and being in church made me feel better inside, except for . . . the shame that lingered.
Not enough!

Less than!

Failure!

Dirty!

Stupid!

These were some of the names that screamed inside my head.  Names that my enemy, the devil, made sure I heard loud and clear.  He does that you know.  When we try to get right with God he comes immediately to discount our positional freedom in Christ, and he makes every attempt to derail us from the purpose God has for our lives.

2I worked hard to make up for my past but there was no joy in the striving.  I dutifully said, “Yes,” to every request made of me, especially by the Pastor, whose approval I desired.  But my service became burdensome.  Where was the freedom the Bible talked about?  Where was the joy of the Lord?

Then came another time of falling away.  My personal life was shaken by divorce.  My church life was ripped in shreds when I was dis-fellowshipped.  Wounded, I walked away from church for many years.  I didn’t act out in rebellion the way I had as a teen and young adult, but I was very angry at the church, and hurt beyond words.

When I married to my current husband, I forgot my pain for awhile in the euphoria of new love.  Until real life returned and the bliss waned.  Over the years came more of the hard things of life (because life can be quite nasty you know).  It was a desperate need for God that led my husband and myself to finally return to church.  Of course I knew that God wasn’t to be found in a church building, but I also knew that following Jesus was harder without other believers and without good Bible teaching.
You’d think this would be the end of my struggle yet still . . . I felt “different” from everyone else in church.  With eyes deceived by lies, I looked around and saw all the “beautiful people” and knew that I was not one of them.

This was my thinking process:  I believed that church people would accept a total sinner off the street who’d sinned wildly before being saved, because they didn’t know any better.  But me?  I was a deliberate sinner.  A church girl gone bad.  I was certain that if people knew the sins I’d committed they wouldn’t like me.  So I held on to my secrets, and vowed to never tell a soul.

Except for God.  Though I might’ve wished God wasn’t all knowing so I could get away without confessing, I was raised in church and I knew His attributes.  In rededicating my life to Jesus I confessed my sins and asked for forgiveness, and accepted His freely given grace toward me.

However, grace and forgiveness of self was not so forthcoming.

Looking back I realize that I must have thought I was pretty special, not to accept that Jesus’ precious blood was enough to cover my deepest, darkest sins!   Did I really believe that God’s own Son was enough for others but not for me?

But oh, the shame!  How does a church girl fall so far when she knew better all along?  In my times of falling away I had God’s Spirit was constantly convicting me of right and wrong, and yet . . . I deliberately chose sin.

Over time, the spirit of shame I carried sought to destroy me.  I’d broken every single one of God’s commandments, including murder.  This, to me, was the worst.  My internal pain grew deeper and deeper, until I myself wanted to die.  A spirit of death hung over me because of an abortion I’d had at the age of 17.

Then came the time when my burden was too great to bear any longer and, at my husband’s insistence, I sought the help I needed.  At the end of myself, I admitted that my way of coping with my past wasn’t working, and I finally turned everything over to God.  That began my healing journey (one that I am still on by the way, because it is a life-long process) and the beginning of freedom.

[bctt tweet=”Freedom isn’t found in dark and hidden places. Freedom is found when we step into the Light.” username=””]

I tell the story over and over of how my confession to God brought forgiveness of sins (I John 1:9), but it was my confession to others that really initiated the healing (James 5:16).  It was so good to come clean and find love and acceptance from my “beautiful” brothers and sisters (Proverbs 28:13).  They liked me.  They really liked me . . . just as I was.

Authenticity.  Becoming honest about my past saved me and, to my surprise, has given me the opportunity to not only share my story, but also hear from others about their own deeply held secrets.  Who knew that God would one day use my pain for the good of others?
3God has a purpose for each of us before we are even a gleam in our earthly father’s eyes.  The enemy also has a purpose – to steal, kill, and destroy.  His plan is to shipwreck our faith and to separate us from our full destiny in Christ Jesus.

Since it is my purpose to encourage others in their faith and freedom, I can’t help but end my testimony without asking you if you are one of those people sitting in the pews pretending?  All of us have brokenness when we come to Christ.  Some have an immediate sense of freedom when they are saved.  But many in church are still walking in brokenness like I was.

It can be hard and embarrassing to face the things that cause us pain, but it is more painful, in the end, to keep them buried.  When we allow God to go to the root of the pain He promises to heal, set free, and deliver us . . . and there is nothing better than walking in the fullness of His Spirit and in power.  Please don’t let fear keep you from fulfilling His glorious purpose for YOU.

Blessings dear ones,

Perfectly Imperfect Patti

In case you’re interested you can read more about my Abortion Story here.  Or The Day the Church Asked for my Forgiveness here.  Or all about Forgiving Yourself here.  Or you can see a short Vimeo of Our (hubby’s and my) Story here. 😉

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We have beauty in imperfection.  Amen!

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Life on the Edge

29901Janet Townsend: My Friend!  She is a blessing.  She is gentle yet strong.  She amazes me with her knowledge of the word and is not fearful to share it.  I’ve seen her struggle more than once and I’ve seen her pick herself up and dust herself off.  People have tried to break her but she is unbreakable because she knows where her strength comes from. She trusts in her Lord with all her might and all her strength.

Whenever I hear the Stevie Nicks’ song Edge of Seventeen, I still crank up my radio and sing right along with it just like the white winged dove, signs a song sounds likes she’s signing.  Oh that song takes be back to being 17 again, a time when I had my life ahead of me.  I would ask myself, what would I be when I grew older?  Who would I marry? How many children would I be blessed with?  Would I be rich? Would I be happy? Would I travel the world or stay close to home?  Endless possibilities and nothing to hold me back.  One question I did not have to ask myself, would God be a part of my life?

As a young child, my parents would take my brother and me to church.  We didn’t attend regularly, but I embraced the lessons I learned in Sunday School about how much Jesus loved me and that I was a child of a King.  I truly felt the presence of God in my life and never really questioned His love for me even at a young age.  When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with a severe case of Rheumatic Fever.  It took several months before the doctors were able to diagnose my condition correctly and begin an effective treatment.  I was in and out of the hospital so many times that all the nurses knew me by name and would recognize me immediately when I was admitted in the hospital.  I could see the look of sadness on their faces when they rolled me into hospital room yet again.  I had so many intravenous injections in my hips, they had to start giving them to me in my legs.  I was in constant pain and it didn’t seem like my tears would ever stop flowing.  I watched the worried looks on my parents faces when nothing that the doctors prescribed would help.  I remember the agony of not being able to walk due to my joints being so stiff and swollen, my parents would have to carry me from my bed to the bathroom where I would soak in a hot bath just to get some relief.  The pastor, lay members, and my sweet, sweet Sunday School teacher from the church we attended occasionally – Church of the Nazarene – visited the hospital and our home to pray with me.  Everyone knew that I was truly sick and wasn’t quite certain what to do about it.  But even during the midst of my pain and illness, I felt God’s presence and I knew I was in His hands.

My medical experience as a child helped me to appreciate Matthew 18:4 (NLT).  So anyone who becomes as humble as the little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  I have always tried to live a life of true humility even at a young age.  As I grew older, we did begin attending church on a consistent basis.  At 12 years of age, I was baptized in a creek next to a river bank.  I  still remember that day as if it were yesterday – the water was so cold and the sun was warm.  My family was there and my mother was so happy.  What a joyful time for me.  It was a reaffirmation that God was still present and real in my life.

As I grew older, I drifted away from the church.  In my mid-twenties, after a short lived marriage, I felt the desire to get back into the church and a life of service.  I started working at a small Methodist Church and then went on to work for a larger Methodist Church and a Christian College.  While working at the larger church, I met an associate pastor.  Three years later we were married.   He had two pre-teen children, so I instantly became a mother and a pastor’s wife.   One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11(NIV) For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to give you hope and a future.  I felt that this was God’s direction in my life and I was living out His purpose.  Our ministry required us to move every three to four years.  It was becoming increasingly hard for me to stay close to God and I was losing the sense that I was living in His purpose.  I am certain that sounds surprising, but true, especially being part of a ministry team with my husband.  The place where you think you could easily find God, the church, I could not find Him there.  My life became consumed with church meetings, women’s Bible studies, raising two children, working a full time job to help make ends meet, and endless demands from the church.  It became too much and my desire for humility was replaced with anger and disappointment.  Unfortunately, I turned from God and turned to alcohol.  The child like faith that I once embraced was gone.  I struggled with my addiction for about ten years.  Finally I conceded I needed help. After many years of feeling abandoned by God, I found him in the most surprising place – AA.  Just like the day of my baptism, I could feel the warmth of God’s presence in my life again.  Even my child like faith returned and because what God had done for me, I was once again embracing a desire for a humble spirit.

A few years later I was faced with another personal heartbreak.  After close to 25 years of marriage, my husband essentially invited me to leave our marriage informing me he was no longer happy and felt I would be happier returning to Kentucky to be closer to my family, we were living in Destin, Florida at that time.   I accepted his invitation and packed up everything that I could get into my car and returned to Kentucky.  Although this pain was different than what I experienced as a child, the tears flowed with the same intensity nonetheless.  Instead of getting angry, I tried everything within me to remain humble and keep my childlike faith.  1 Peter 5: 6 & 7 NLT says So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor.  Give all of your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.  God brought me through some dark, dark days.  And He took care of me; every need –  physical, emotional, and especially spiritual He met with great swiftness and clarity.  I knew I was in His hands and He would see me through.

As the days go by like a strand in the wind is the web that is my own, I begin again as the song goes.  I am now on the edge of 56.  My friends have told me that turning 56 is much harder than turning 55.  You are now closer to 60 than to 50 they say.  Most of the questions I asked myself when I was 17 have been answered.  Yes, I would get married, but divorce after 25 years.  I have no biological children but helped raise two step children like they were my own as well as being the best grandmother I could to three beautiful grandchildren.  I am certainly not rich monetarily, but definitely happy.   I have had the privilege to travel domestically and internationally.    The question that remains what will I be? I find myself moving in a different direction professionally.  No longer being part of a ministry team or parenting team, I am now asking myself what will I do with my life?  I have decided to embark on a Master’s Degree in Ethical Leadership.  My heart is leading me to focus on women in leadership and how women relate to one another in the workplace.  After years of working professionally in Human Resources and seeing the struggles, and enduring a few of my own, that women have in the workplace, I believe God is calling me to use my gifts, skills, and now my education to make a difference for women who are coming behind me that need a voice.  With God’s help, I want to be that voice.  I must be honest, I am so scared striking out in a new direction especially during this phase of my life.  Most people tell me to play it safe, get that job that will sustain you and live a quiet, comfortable life until you retire and then just have fun.  I don’t believe God brought me through a life threatening illness as a child, alcohol addiction and recovery, a painful divorce, and professional disappointments to play it safe.  He is calling me to do something more, something bigger with my life.  Throughout the Bible, God uses His people at every phase of life:  David as a child then Israel’s anointed King as an adult, Sarah’s birth of Isaac at a later age, and Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt at 80 years old.  Now, I believe that God is using me to live out His purpose, the building up and empowerment of women.

Let me end by saying, as much as I enjoy listening to the songs of my youth and getting that rush of nostalgia, it has always been scripture, prayer and my daily quiet time with the Lord that sustains me.  As I start this new phase of my life I ask for your prayers.  Pray that I don’t grow weary and can stay the course that God has put me on.  God has put a new song in my heart, the lyrics have yet to be written, and the melody is a small note in my mind, but I am confident this song will blare for God as He walks with me as I live my life on the edge for His glory.

Thank you Lord for placing women like Janet in my life.  Amen!

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Pain to Victory

TeresaTeresa Martin:  I understand her drive! Some are born with a driven personality and some are “gifted” it through trials. When you face the hard and push through it, learning all the while what God has in store.  Taking it and growing in compassion for other women.  That’s Teresa!  I’ve only known her for a short while but thrilled that the Lord has blessed me with another “gifted”driven woman in my life.  Can’t wait to see what God has in store for us as a team.

 

 

 

I always knew there was a God but I did not know him.  At age 34 I had not read or studied the bible.  I only knew what others said about God and I didn’t hang around people who followed his ways.  When my childhood sweetheart and husband of 19 years had yet another affair and I knew divorce was the choice I had to make, I became a follower of Jesus, not just a person who believed he existed.  I started to pray through my pain and go to church and then eventually attended a bible study.  I watched people who worshiped unashamed and I longed for a relationship with God like that.  As my life, as I knew it, crumbled before me, I began seeking to know God and understand who he says I am and how much he loves me and my life was forever changed.  I committed my whole heart and surrendered my plans for my life to His plans for me.

In John 10:27 Jesus says “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.”

We can mature in grace and live the Christian life through a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. If we fully respond and are serious about this relationship with Jesus, then we are his disciples. Discipleship is the process of becoming the whole person God calls each of us to be through our relationship with Jesus Christ.  A disciple embraces God’s highest purpose for his or her life – to grow in the likeness of Christ for the sake of others.  Upon the advice of the Christian counselor I was seeing after my divorce, I went to see the minister of a large church in Lexington to talk about divorce.  He listened to my story and told me I was a minister because I could minister to those going through divorce.  He said his church had 8000 ministers because everyone who attended thee had their own ministry from their life’s story.  You do not have to be a clergy-person to be a minister.  Ministry is helping people become the whole persons God calls them to be in Jesus Christ.  Jesus called common fishermen to become the greatest kind of fishermen they could be- fishers of people.  God uses the pain of my divorce for me to serve others who are suffering in the same way.  I experienced the pain of divorce ending a 19 year marriage.  I could not have survived the pain without Jesus.  We lived on a farm and I was the one to leave because I knew I couldn’t take car of it.  My son, my only child, chose to stay at the farm.  I lost all of what I knew at the time to be mine at that moment, my home , my son and my husband.  My husband had been my best friend for 19 years and was my high school sweet heart.  My mom has an entry in my baby book from kindergarten “Teresa has her first boyfriend” and it was the boy I married in 197.  In Isaiah 61:1, we read, “He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted” and in chapter 61:2, “to comfort all who mourn”.  The Lord showed me that he was all I could truly call mine.  The Lord does not waist a hurt and has put in my path women going through divorce so I could share the generosity I have experienced from God.  I had been in bible study a couple of years when I was asked to lead a small discussion group.  I did not feel adequate , however the leader told me if I did I wouldn’t need Jesus!  I lead that group through several studies and saw God work in amazing ways.  Then the leader’s husband was called to ministry in another state.  She asked us to pray about who would take the leadership position of this large group of women.  As I prayed I heard  in my spirit the words “feed my sheep”.  I felt myself saying I can’t do that Lord.  Again I heard a still small voice saying, “you can do all things through Christ”.  I  was driving at the time so I sat down with my bible when I got  home knowing that if I heard from God it would be through His word.  I found both of those in scripture and other women on the prayer team confirmed they felt God was calling me to lead the group.  I was 34 years old before I accepted Christ as my Savior and as I surrendered to His will He called me to disciple other women.  I have been remarried 16 years and life can still be challenging and painful. I am thankful for God’s word that sustains and fulfills me.

We read about two kinds of persons in the Gospels:

  1. The crowds- the thousands of persons who sought out Jesus.  They were hungry and wanted to be healed.  But most were curious, not committed.  They were more FANS than FOLLOWERS.
  2. The disciples- those few who heard the call to follow, committed their lives to Him and put their faith into action.

The same two types of persons exist in today’s church.  Each of us must decide which we will be.  Will we stop short of fully responding to God’s grace and Call?  Or will we gratefully and wholeheartedly respond by becoming disciples of Jesus Christ?

Lord Thank You for giving me women like Teresa to share life with.  I praise You for know exactly what we need.  Please help us hear you clearly! Amen!

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Didn’t Win the Lottery

Joy Planck:  Joy………..what can I say about Joy?  She puts a smile on my face every time I see her.  She is simply a …..joy!  And what is fantastic about it is that if life is running smoothly, she is a joy and if life is finding it’s trials, she is a joy.  Doesn’t matter what life 10898013_724273937691181_3215757218075290447_nis throwing at her, she knows who to turn to and that’s Christ.  I’ve seen her grow in His love and it’s been beautiful. Now does she still struggle with those demons that want to roam around in her head, YES, but she is a fighter!  I’m so thrilled that God gave me the privilege to call her “friend”.

My life as a follower of Jesus began because of my need for acceptance.  But more than wanting myself to be part of the “in” crowd, I wanted my daughter to be a part of it.

I was not a “good girl”.  I grew up in a family where parents were divorced, relationships were not healthy and kids knew themselves to be little more than burdensome.  My life reflected my upbringing and I was a kid who lied and contrived and became a girl who drank and partied a little and slept around…a lot.  I had not one ounce of respect for self and, at the same time believed in nothing by my own needs, wants and feelings.

So when, at the age of 26 I found myself married for the second time with two little girls, one 4 and the other just a year old, I began searching…hard.  I wanted something better for my kids than the haughty looks “nice” folks had given to me.  If you’re anything like me you know the people I mean and the looks I’m talking about. I never wanted my kids to feel like they weren’t good enough – even when they hadn’t done anything wrong but be born.

I realized one of the common things about all the kids who were accepted  was that they all went to the big Christian Church in town on the corner.acceptance

Around that time I got a promotion at work.  I went out to the warehouse to work on the filing system and try to help and bring some order to the place but I certainly got far more than I bargained for!  When I began my tenure I was a smoking, cursing, debacle of a person.  I gossiped and complained and groused full time.  I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for that group of Christian men to endure those first few months working alongside me.  But as time wore on, I wore down and their little mentions of church or God or their tame weekends spent with their loving families got me asking questions. There was another member of our break room friend group who worked in another department and just so happened to be a youth pastor at a local church.  Needless to say, he was all too eager to answer any questions I had about God and church.

I finally got up the nerve, with much urging from my new friends, to walk through those big wooden doors at the big church on the corner in town!  I did it!  And nobody threw me back out the door!  They accepted me with open arms in spite of the fact that it was a small town and most of them knew who my parents were.  I was so excited.   I read my Bible and went to Sunday school and took my older daughter.  The little one was a handful and her daddy would not go to church with me, so I left her home with him.  I didn’t figure it was too big a deal since she really wouldn’t know what was going on anyway.

When I came to work one day and said that I’d had a discussion with the pastor and planned to be baptized they were thrilled.  The youth pastor’s first question was, “Did he pray with you?”  I looked at him, exasperated, and said, “No.  Why?”  YP’s reply was simple, you need to get saved.  I told him I didn’t know what that even meant and said, “Tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it now!”  So I prayed, in the break room, with my coworkers who’d led me so well along my journey joined in with me and I asked Jesus into my heart and it was perfect.  I spent the rest of that day walking on a cloud.  I finally belonged to the club!  But there were vulnerabilities in my young, Christian heart and as we know from I Peter 5:8, we must be sober, be vigilant; because our adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

I was saved and I was a Christian and Jesus was in my heart, but life was not perfect.  My life was lacking in many ways and the biggest was in my marriage.  My husband and I fought constantly.  My young daughter was caught in the middle and I didn’t know what to do about it.  I had never, in all my life witnessed a healthy, loving relationship and certainly did not know what to do to get one.  I talked to my friends, family and colleagues about my troubles and they were only too happy to sympathize with me as I dishonored my husband and flushed my marriage vows down the figurative toilet daily.

The sympathy I got from one, certain friend grew from empathy for my situation, into attraction and then more.  Before I realized what had happened, I was involved in a very inappropriate relationship and, although I knew it was wrong and that I wanted my marriage to survive for the sake of my baby girl, the attraction I felt to the life I wanted – with a Christian man – was so very strong.   He was so kind and good (I thought).  I failed to see the situation from his wife’s point of view!  I remember lying in bed and NOT praying for God to change my situation, because even in those early days of my walk with the Lord, I knew that, according to Matthew 17:20, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.  I wanted to think that God was handing me the ready-made, easy, perfect life I’d always dreamed of.  But in my heart I knew better, simply because I was reading God’s word and so I knew the truth.  What I didn’t know from reading the Bible and my short experience with Christian living, I knew from the small, quiet whisperings of my savior.  I knew that Marriage is honorable among all (Heb 13:4) and that I had to preserve mine.

Finally, I could pray!  I prayed for God to take away my impure thoughts and He did just that.  And, after all these years, I’ve not been tempted in that way again.  I repented, admitted what I’d done to my husband and begged him for forgiveness.  I broke off the relationship with my friend and am beyond thankful to be able to say I ended the affair of the heart before it became more!  The Lord changed me during that time and I turned to my husband and away from the rest.  I learned to lean on God first and then my spouse and discovered so much I hadn’t realized.  I came to KNOW my man for the honest, strong and dependable leader I had always dreamed of being married to.

God has continued to bless me in my life since I began to follow him all those years ago.  I’ve moved, been promoted at work, seen my husband promoted and watched our kids grow into wonderful adults.  We’ve had our trials, to be sure.  My husband still does not attend church with me, but I am comforted and have peace, even in his absence.  My kids are not perfect and struggle with school and friends at times, but I have perfect peace and know that God is doing a good work in them.  My extended family struggles are daunting and run the gamut at times between alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, etc. but I am no longer plagued with jealousy, guilt and anxiety.

Many people say they are “blessed” and then go on to explain how they live a life of perfection.  It’s almost as if “blessing” equals winning the lottery.  I didn’t win the lottery when I came to know Jesus but He took me by the hand, He opened my eyes to the joy I didn’t know was available to me or even existed.  I didn’t win the lottery that day in the break room at work, but found a much better prize.  A prize worth more than money, or stature or reputation; I won the trophy of life – MY life.blessed  I took it out of this world and the hands of the devil and gave it over to the Only One who truly values it for what it’s worth! – Joy Planck

Lord, Thank you so much for friendship.  Thank you for the example of your Son on earth. The relationship with you is my guidance and value.  The relationship I have with those here on earth is my joy and care.   I so appreciate those you have set in my path. I pray Lord for those that don’t understand the need for relationships.  I pray for their loneliness and shame they carry with them daily.  I pray that they will let go and open up to a world with You in it.  Amen!

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Sweet Aroma

Sherri McReynolds:  She is my rock!  My stable ground.  When I need a gentle word and a steady voice, she is the one I call.  God only placed her in my physical surrounding for short period of time but he placed her there at just the right time.  She has been my “hiding place” (literally) and my place to go for rest.  She has supported me during some pretty tough situations and never wavered in the trust she placed in God for our direction.  And now that she has been many miles away from me for a lot of years, I still can hear her sweet voice and feel her hugs.  I so look forward to the day when we can be in the same physical place again.  My friend forever!

30562“I’d like you to write a post for my website….The story of your life with God. Would you do it?”      “Oh my!”, was my response. It made my heart race at the thought! I had never sat down and put pen to paper about “my story”. Did I have one, I wondered? They say everyone has a story to tell, but others seem to have much more interesting stories than mine! Yet, here I sit in the quiet of an early Monday morning, strong coffee with just the right amount of cream and my Bible open. The view out my dining room window indicates fall is in full swing, and in many ways mirrors my life stage. I passed my 50th birthday this last summer along with a few more wrinkles, and gray hair masked by a bit of color.

The summer of 1966 was my grand entrance into this world. The last of five children, born in a small Texas Panhandle town, to a pretty, 28 year-old mother, and a 29 year-old handsome, young preacher. I’m told my mama had to sweet-talk my daddy into the last 3 children, and I’m so glad she did! My parents would gather us all into the living room every night for a devotional. Daddy would read scripture, we would sing “Abide with Me”, and then we would each take turns praying. God was becoming more real to me, even at that tender young age. Sundays were my favorite day of the week in that small Colorado town where we now lived. I vividly remember running into the bathroom where my mama was getting ready for church and excitedly asked her, “Do you know what my favorite day of the week is? Sunday!”.   I was too young yet to understand the gravity of the struggle in the world outside in the early 1970’s…bomb threats due to racial tension that sent my older brother and sister home from high school, inflation, Vietnam, etc. My world was secure, safe, and warm. I knew nothing of the impact of sin. But then I started Kindergarten. The sweet, little 5 year-old girl found herself wrapping her beloved doll in a blanket from the play area of the classroom and standing in line to go home. The teacher asked, “Is that your blanket, Sherri?”, to which I replied softly, “Yes”.  Stealing…lying…oh my! I knew it was wrong, but buried it in my young heart and kept it there. A year later, a friend named Missy, taught me how to smoke in the back alley of her house. I was a mature 1st grader, and she a 2nd grader. Why did it seem so easy to give in to temptation? Sin. I buried this guilt in my heart, too. These sins and others began to burden my heart so much, that I finally got the courage to ask my mom one Wednesday night after church, “Do you ever need to tell someone about your sins?” She took me privately into their bedroom, where I sat on the edge of the bed and confessed everything I could think of. She was so gentle, as always, and prayed with me, and hugged me as I cried. The heaviness finally lifted from my heart! Confession really is good for the soul!

When I was 11, I had a very strong conviction to be baptized. I was a private girl and hadn’t shared with my parents about the decision I had been wrestling with. But “something” took me out of that pew that Sunday morning, and my daddy baptized me into Christ. Oh, what a feeling! My sins had all been washed away! I will never forget that day. Never had I experienced that feeling of feeling so free, light and so joyful!

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” I Peter 5:8.  Wait. Who? Me? Yes, me. Many times in the course of Jr. High and High School I was in a spiritual battle. More lying here, a little deception there, and covering up, and burying deep.  I tried to hide from God. Shamefully, I ceased praying to Him and confessing my sin, allowing Satan to deceive me into thinking, “God isn’t listening to you!”.  But Satan is the father of lies, and makes it his mission to keep us believing those lies. But God has a way of getting our attention to call us back to Him.  He got my attention at that time by moving a young man to town when I was 16.  I’m convinced he was placed there, at that particular time, by God. He and his family only lived there for eight short months before his parents decided that cold, little part of Colorado was not for them and headed back north to Denver. We had only been dating one month before they moved, but that was enough time for God!  Matt needed Him, and little did I know that He would use me. Could God actually use me– broken, flawed, and at times living in out-right rebellion? Yes, He could and He did! God also knew that I needed to be called back to Him and used Matt to do that. It was not an immediate change for either one of us, but our relationship grew through the long distance, and after graduation I moved to Denver. We had many conversations about God, our past mistakes, and what we dreamed of for the future. He was baptized into Christ four months before we married in May of 1986. Matt and I learned to grow in Christ together as we began our married life, and had 2 beautiful children. These “children” are now nearly 27 and 24 years of age, and are my pride and joy! As they grew and were being shaped by God, He was shaping me right along with them.  I, by no means, have mothered them perfectly. So many mistakes have been made. But God is always reminding me of how far He has brought me, and that His grace is sufficient for me.15085547_10211140271962987_6575471649633036569_n

Our family has been through a lot of changes over the past 30 years. Job losses, moves, deaths, divorces within our families, etc.  With every one of these challenges, God has grown me more and more. He has put wonderful, godly women in my life at just the right time, along with families in the body of Christ to share joys with, as well as struggles, and to help carry one another’s burdens that living in this flesh can bring.

There is nothing more vital in this world than living a life of faith in Christ Jesus! Struggles come so that we can see God more clearly. Nothing can ever take the place of the treasure we have in Christ. Yes, even I, in this cracked jar of clay, have a treasure, “….to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from men”. 2 Cor. 4:7.

Through each season of the year, and of my life, may the LORD continually help keep my eyes on Him. No matter how much I mess up, He is faithful. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes on not what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:17-18

Lord, You always have the best timing and know who we need to have.  Thank you for giving me Sherri.  Be with her as she ministers to those around her and help her know that she is a part of Your great story.  Amen

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My Story is not Boring

Patty Raisor: Pure in Heart!  That is what I can say about Patty.  Which means she loves God and through that love she gives.  Gives in many ways to her neighbors in America and to her neighbors across the seas.  She feels BIG, big for joys and big for sorrows.  A person will never fails to feel loved when they are with her.  I have been blessed by her presence in my life.

1780066_10203010322633219_2085411338782936671_oThere is no such thing as a boring story with God.  I use to think my testimony was boring – I grew up in a Christian home, was in church all my life, had every opportunity to know God, did all the “Christian things,” but realized in High School that I had a religion and not a relationship.  It was at a youth camp that I realized I was working to obtain and keep my salvation – it was all about me and what I did.  Once I could see the ugliness of my sin – my attitudes, actions, thoughts, words – I realized I needed to be rescued from myself.  It was at that camp I asked Jesus to be in charge of my life, to save me from myself, to forgive me of my past and be my forever friend.

What is not boring about my story is that God had been pursuing me all my life – He gave me my family, He gave me a Christian upbringing, He protected me from myself and He has continued to hold me tight.

My salvation was secure, but I had not truly made Him Lord over my life which was evident during my college days.  I went my own way and lived a life that made me look like the world around me.  I rarely went to church, I never read the Bible, I prayed when I needed something and I was surrounded by non Christian friends.  My life definitely was not boring – but it was also not fulfilling.  I was running from God thinking I was in charge of my life.  BORING.jpg

Things began to change when I met my future husband.  We had so much in common – we were both Christians, we had very similar home life and interests and he too had been running from God.  We both had the desire to make our marriage God centered which meant getting serious about our relationship with Him.  It was then I committed to making Him Lord of my life.

I began attending Bible studies where I discovered for myself the truth about God, His character, the way He operated and what He desired for my life.  I began to grow in my relationship with Jesus as I applied what I was learning.  God began preparing me to serve Him in my home, the church and in para-church organizations.  Each ministry He placed me in was a training ground for the next assignment He had for me.  My husband and I loved serving God together and He gave us many opportunities which ultimately prepared us for His call to China.  For 2 years we taught English to college students with the main goal of sharing God’s love and showing Jesus to our students.

Why is my story not boring?  Because God’s grace is never boring.  He plucked me out of my self-centered life, He cleaned me up, He held tightly to me when I went my own way, He hand picked my spouse and has kept us together, He trained me for parenting and ministry outside of the home, He enables me to serve Him and He loves me unconditionally.  What a miracle!!

Patty

Lord, Yes what a miracle.  The miracle of Your Son.  The miracle of the love that You show us. I’m grateful for Patti and I pray for the paths that cross her, that they will be blessed by the gifts You have given her. Amen!

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A Journey Home

Sherrie Rison:  Sherrie………what can I say about her except that her smile is contagious! The sweet spirit that she carries so gracefully is one that those around her are blessed by. She is willing to show weakness but admits that her determination can sometimes hold her back from being vulnerable.   I’ve only been blessed by her presence in my life for a couple of years.  I’ve seen her walk through some pretty tough issues and wonder what God is trying to teach her.   I’m also getting to be with her during a time of blessings and joy.  All I know for sure is that God always knows what he is doing and through all of Sherrie’s life, He has been weaving a unbelievably beauuuuuuuu-tiful story.  I’m grateful that I am a part of it with her.

Jeremiah 1:5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

sherrie

It is important for me to remember this; as my life has wound through seasons and years, people have come and go, but this verse, this truth remains the same. Thank you for letting me share how God has always been with me.

  As an infant my environment did not reflect a loving household. 1985, My first year I moved from Nashville, TN with my mother, father and two biological brothers to Huston, TX with my father, aunt and brothers to Mt. Sterling, KY with house parents and my brothers at Hope Hill Children’s Home and finally Winchester, KY with my first official foster parents, without my brothers. They were a nice family. I have three older brothers and an older sister.

When I was 5, 1990, my father decided to reclaim my brothers and me from foster care. A day came when everyone’s face was sad and hearts heavy, too young for me to understand. I relocated to the next town over, Lexington, KY. My room was in the basement with my brothers down the hall. I cried myself to sleep and spent years trying to figure out what happened, what was still happening.

I staggered through the effects of alcohol and drugs in my new home. As my school years continued I settled in to feeling very lonely and outcast, almost hidden. My interest peaked in Wiccan and pagan practices. (Not necessarily dark, just something greater) I started making some friends in the neighborhood smoking cigarettes, pot and drinking. My oldest brother came out he was gay. His lifestyle had an impact on my introduction to rave parties, acid, ecstasy and mushrooms. All of these things I was reaching out for, trying to reach and understanding of “feel good” or love, left me empty at the end of every day.

My sophomore year 2001, there was a teacher who invested in me like no one before. Spending time after or in-between classes. She invited me to church and led me to a relationship with Jesus. I was so reluctant but I was told John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. The opportunity to be truly loved in a way that would never ever go away. Romans 8:38  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I was fully aware of the loneliness in life and the deep need for Love. A simple prayer between me and God, asking for forgiveness, acknowledging I needed/wanted Him/love in my life and I asked Jesus to make His home in my heart, to lead my life. (March 9, 2001) There was a still, small moment that I could feel God call to me. With the smallest amount of faith I prayed for the first time. “God if you’re there…” Something happened in that moment. I felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders. My heart felt like butterflies. I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. The feeling lasted days even weeks and it couldn’t have come a better time. While I transitioned from my fathers to the shelter and the attic I knew I was loved and felt like I was loved. Nothing in this world had ever given me that before, Jesus was/ is different. Life must go on, the bible says, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” Just because I am a person of faith doesn’t exempt me from difficulties. Difficulties that give me the opportunity to choose what character I will create in myself.

After returning home from the retreat I carried Jesus’s love with me everywhere. He made me confident, worthy and I had a great hope. I was ready to meet my next level of faith. My father met mine and my brothers’ maximum limit of tolerance for his abuse a month after my retreat. He was charged with neglect and we were placed back in states care with nowhere to go. Trying to place a 15 and 16 year old in the foster care program was a difficult task so we stayed in an emergency shelter for months and eventually were relocated again to an attic belonging to a man who previously sat on the board of the foster program. He was an extreme activist with no shower, stove or washer and dryer. There was no food in the house and if we went to school, we caught the city bus.

God introduced me to a family through the church that were foster parents. Job 29:12 because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them. I was so distracted by wanting out of states care and being tossed around I did not see the love right in front of me. I had a mother and father, 6 new sisters and 3 new brothers. The pain, resentment, anger and entitlement had me in bondage. All I could see was what I thought was the finish line, my 18th birthday. I managed to make up my grades and graduate high school. By graduation I was already moving my things to a friend’s house.

I let loose of the focus I had and put aside the truths I had found. Somehow forgetting, taking for granted the freedom, peace, and love I had found in my relationship and conversations with Jesus. I wanted to do what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. I was pregnant the summer after graduation. My actions lead to guilt and shame. It was hard to strike a conversation with God. Even though I was scared and felt very alone again Jesus made, what I knew as, His first great promise to me; “You and this baby will be okay.” Almost an audible voice, the room seemed to clear of everything but this warm radiant light and I was again filled with strength and hope. My last ultra sound confirmed it. The doctors said March 22 and my heart knew March 9, 2004, exactly four years after I asked Jesus to lead my life. Sure enough I was held over in labor until March 9. Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. This undeserving grace and gift was enough to humble my heart again. I felt the deep need for God in my life as my sons father went to prison I was left with the responsibility/ privilege. I stayed involved at the church, started college and worked full time in addition to being mom. I was blessed with peace and my son. I watched God touch others through how he was changing me, even witnessed my closest friends who came to know Jesus too and was able to pray with them to receive His love for the first time.

It was a few years later, that I was tempted by my old habits, hearing lies that I really wasn’t any different and that I could go back to those good ol party days instead of pretending I was this tied up person with a bow on top. I let go again and this time for 5 years. Dating many men, living in domestic violence, DVO’s, jail time, married, and divorced with three abortions, there was so much confusion I did not even want to begin to processing through it. Not until I was sitting at the Salvation Army with my two boys, driven to my knees with a deep need for Love. 1 John 4:8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

I started to realized just how bad things had gotten. I managed to save for our own apartment as I finished my AA degree. I was lonely, sledging through the days just trying to keep food in our bellies. I think I started to understand and learn this lesson. God dignifies us with free will, the power to make decisions of our own rather than having God or fate predetermine what we do. He wants us all as His own children but will not force or hold back any consequences. Even in the not so great choices He will still make good come of it, giving me strength and renewed hope. My faith in Jesus’s promise to never leave was becoming concrete.

After graduation, naturally I felt the need to start something new. I was feeling accomplished and determined to keep moving forward. I slowed my decision making and thought about how to start rebuilding. God needed to be the center and foundation for this restoration to be successful. I started small conversations and prayers. I was filled with a new hope, for my family to be put back together, healing to come to my biological family and reconciliation with my other past families. My second sons’ father and I agreed on forgiveness and started making plans to move out of the state, away from the labels we were living under. A new fresh start. This was going to be another very long journey. I was confident God was the engineer and paving the way. We had a large yard sale and headed out west. God carried the vehicle to the other side of the nation without a hiccup, to Huntington Beach, Ca.

First things first, my home and little family needed to be on the same playing field. God provided a home just a half a mile from the beach, a great connect to Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and Celebrate Recovery, for all hurts, habits and hang ups and I enrolled at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian Liberal Arts College. Jesus began to soften both our hearts. As I prayed, God worked miracles and my boyfriend was baptized with my oldest son on June 29 of 2014. 2 Corinthians 5:17 this means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! beautiful

Again a new season with new hearts and renewed spirits. Together we were filled with another new hope and wanted to go back home to face the past so we could share this love with our friends and family. I was in awe of the way God had moved in our lives bringing to light the desires of my heart. Philippians 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

There has been a pruning process, healing broken places in our hearts, weeding out the things not needed for our future and restoring joy to our lives. It has been a difficult road since we have been back almost 2 years. In fact it reminds me a bit of the exorcist. It is not a pretty process but God promises; He gives beauty for ashes, Strength for fear, Gladness for mourning, Peace for despair.

I pray for the day when a great purpose will be revealed and I will be equipped for success, to glorify what God has done in me. So for now, I will be still, quiet, taking no action but to do what is in front of me and read the word, and pray. Philippians 4:6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Lord, I am in awe of You and what You can and will do for us.  Thank you for giving me my friend.  Continue to guide her, making your love for her evident.  Amen

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